In the 30s, 40s, and 50s the Reverend Isaac Oladotun Ransome-Kuti and his wife, Olufunmilayo, were in the forefront of the struggle of the Nigerian people against British colonial autocracy. Their Abeokuta home served as the secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Union of Women founded and led by the Kutis. Bekololari was born in 1940 by the Kutis with a silver spoon. But like his elder brother, Fela, he never used the spoon. Early in life both of them were nurtured in the struggle against injustice and oppression.
Both Beko and Fela witnessed the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun their home in 1944. They also took part in the several street protests led by their mother which culminated in the abdication of the throne by the Alake, Oba Ladapo Ademola in 1947. The Alake had been accused of collaborating with the colonial forces to collect excessive taxation from the Egba people. Notwithstanding that they attended their mother’s primary school and the Abeokuta Grammar School headed by their father they enjoyed no preferential treatment. Even though their father died while they were young, their mother brought them up together with their elder brother, Olikoye, and sister, Dolu. Beko read medicine at the University of Manchester while Fela studied music at the Trinity College, University of London.
As undergraduates in the United Kingdom, they took an active part in the struggle for the decolonization of the African continent. Upon their return to Nigeria in the 60s Beko worked briefly in the civil service before setting up his own clinic at Mushin, a stone’s throw from Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. His involvement in the Nigerian Medical Association radicalized the erstwhile docile body. He was elected the Chairman of the Lagos Branch and later Deputy President of the Nigerian Medical Association. He influenced the Nigerian Medical Association to compel the government to fund the health sector in the 1980s. Not unexpectedly, he as victimized and detained on many occasions as he was always held vicariously liable for doctors’ industrial actions.
Upon coming to the conclusion that the regular campaign for individual comrades who were detained without trial by military dictators was not sufficient Beko and other allies decided to establish the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). As his first president, he laid a solid foundation for the human rights body. He also led the Campaign for Democracy, a coalition of human rights and pro-democracy organizations which effectively coordinated the campaign which culminated in the termination of military rule. He was detained by the Buhari and Babangida regimes while he was jailed by the Sani Abacha junta.
When we were detained in Kuje prison in 1992 and 1993, the late Chief Gani Fawehiinmi SAN was always advising Dr. Beko Ransome-kuti to stop smoking to avoid possible cancer of the lung. As predicted, Dr. Ransome-kuti died of cancer of the long at the age of 65. Strangely, Chief Fawehinmi too died of cancer of the long at the age of 71. Both of them could have lived much longer if the country had efficient medical facilities. Now that Beko, Gani, and other comrades are no longer with us the greatest tribute that we can pay them is to rededicate ourselves to the struggle against underdevelopment and the re-colonization of Nigeria by imperialism. The progressive extraction of the civil society must quickly link up intervene to arrest the on-going descent to anarchy and chaos by mobilizing Nigerians to take their political destiny in their own hands. This will require the urgent formation of a broad political movement of all progressive and democratic forces led by the labor movement. One of the immediate tasks of the movement is the launching of a campaign for the
Health condition of President Buhari
Last year, President Buhari announced that he was proceeding on medical leave to treat an ear infection in the United Kingdom. In line with Section 45 of the Constitution, the President handed over powers to the Vice President. The nation wished the President well, but not a few Nigerians called on the federal government to fix the local hospitals. Although the President announced that he would undergo another medical check-up during a 10-day vacation in the UK, there have been wild speculations over his state of health. Some mischievous people have rumored the death of the President. The leave has since been extended on the advice of the President’s doctors.
No doubt, a full disclosure of the President’s state of health would have put paid to the speculations, but no law has been violated by the presidency. Indeed, Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act excludes disclosure of the medical record of any citizen. However, there can, therefore, be no justification for the action of some irresponsible elements who have used the social media to announce the death of the President. However, this is not surprising since one of them had actually published an advertorial during the electioneering campaign wherein he predicted that the President would die in office!
In the obituaries published daily in our newspapers, our loved ones usually die after a “brief illness” that is never disclosed. The majority of African people were surprised when the late President Mandela announced that his first son had died of HIV. When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died of HIV in 1997, his children were strenuously opposed to the decision of his elder brother, Professor Koye Ransome-Kuti to announce the cause of the death. As he could not convince his nephews and nieces the former minister of health assured them that he would not announce the cause of their father’s death but that of his own brother! Thus, at the press conference held by Professor Ransome-Kuti at the Afrika Shrine at Ikeja, Lagos he tersely said, “Gentlemen of the press, I wish to disclose that my brother, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who I loved dearly has just died of complications arising from HIV/AIDS.”
Until the authoritative pronouncement of Professor Ransome-Kuti majority of Nigerian youths never believed that HIV was real. Although the dangerous disease has claimed thousands of lives, no other family has had the courage to emulate the example of Mandela and Ransome-Kuti. Indeed, many families whose loved ones are killed by the disease or cancer it is always a case of the “enemies have done their worst.” The same hypocrisy is demonstrated when people are sick. Hence, it is not uncommon for Nigerians to say that they are strong when they are indisposed. The Biblical injunction is a justification for promoting the superstitious belief that it is a taboo to disclose one’s state of health.
On a very serious note, our experience as a nation calls for an amendment of the Constitution so that the medical reports on the state of health of contestants are submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission. Having regard to the unprecedented scale of looting of the public treasury by the ruling class the mental state of contestants has to be examined by psychiatrists. Accordingly, the Freedom of Information Act should be amended to allow interested members of the public to obtain medical records of public officers.
The right of Nigerians to health
Instead of wasting precious time over the state of health of the President we should join issue with the State over the parlous state of medical facilities in the country. In other words, the Nigerian people should take advantage of the President’s health to demand the provision of adequate funds to fix our hospitals which General Buhari and his colleagues described as consulting clinics in 1984. The President should be made to know that the consulting clinics have since become mortuaries for the masses. The practice of allowing poor citizens to die of preventable diseases while top public officers and rich private citizens are allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment can no longer be justified. In line with the letter and spirit of the National Health Act, 2014 public officers should no longer allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment at public expense.
Since Nigerian citizens have the right to health by the combined effect of section 17 of the Constitution and Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act is high time our medical facilities were fixed while drugs are made available and affordable. The usual excuse for not equipping our hospitals is that funds are not available. With respect, it is a matter of priority and not poverty.
The life span of people in Cuba 79 years while ours is 52. Cuba is a very poor country, but education and health are free for all citizens.
The greatest killer disease in Africa is malaria. Not less than half a million Africans are lost to malaria fever every year. But the scourge of malaria can be substantially eliminated if the leaders are prepared to muster the political will to ‘offend’ the manufacturers of anti-malaria drugs by acquiring the technology to destroy malaria. As far back as 1967, Cuba developed a vaccine, called larvicides that destroys malaria parasite instead of treating it. Cuba has also developed an anti long cancer vaccine called cimavax which is expected to arrive in the United States any moment from now. Yet, in solidarity with western based drug manufacturing companies, our leaders are not prepared to collaborate with the Cubans in destroying malaria and combating cancer and other diseases.
Owing to the struggle of Beko and other progressive people the ruling class reluctantly enacted the National Health Act, 2014. The Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for the regulation, development, and management of a national health care system and set the standard for rendering health services in the federation. The Act has also established a Basic Health Care Provision Fund which shall be financed from the annual grant of not less than one percent (1%) of the consolidated revenue fund of the federal government; grants by international donors and funds from any other source.
While all Nigerians are entitled to a basic minimum package of health services the Minister of Health, in consultation with the National Council on Health, may prescribe conditions subject to which categories of persons may be eligible for exemption from payment for health care services at public health establishments. In determining persons who may be entitled to exemption from payment for health services in public health establishments, the Minister shall have regard to “the needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.” However, the National Council on Health is under an obligation to “ensure that children between the ages of zero and five years and pregnant women are immunized with vaccines against infectious diseases.”
Under the National Programme on Immunization Act, there is no limitation with respect to age as the government is required to effectively control, through immunization and the provision of vaccines the occurrence of certain deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, neonatal tetanus, measles, diseases of women of child-bearing age and so on. The National Council on Health shall ensure the delivery of basic health services to the people of Nigeria and prioritize other health services that may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister of Health after consultation with the National Council on Health. The “basic minimum package” means the set of health services as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister of Health after consultation with the National Council on Health.
Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian, no public officer shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation or referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or the Commissioner of Health of the state as the case may be.
It is pertinent to point out that a health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason whatsoever. Indeed, the penalty for refusing to attend to a person in emergency condition is a fine of ₦100,000.00 (one hundred thousand naira) or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months. Therefore, the demand for the police report before treating people with gunshot wounds is illegal.
Going by the letter and spirit of the act it is indisputable that the right to health has been elevated to the level of justiciability as anyone denied of access to basic health has the unquestionable right to seek redress in court. If religiously implemented by the federal government, the act is going to tackle all preventable diseases including infant and maternal mortality. But the 1% contribution from the federal government consolidated revenue fund is totally inadequate in actualizing the right of the Nigerian people to basic health. Apart from recommending not less than 20% from the federal, state and local governments to fund the health sector, we call on the federal government to collaborate with the Cuban government in tackling and eliminating malaria fever, typhoid fever, meningitis and other preventable diseases.
From the foregoing, I wish to state that the right to health cannot be realized without an effective health care delivery system. To actualize the right to health for the majority of citizens the federal, state and local governments should be compelled to implement the National Health Insurance Act and the National Health Act which have guaranteed access to good health care services to the Nigerian people. In addition, the government should, as a matter of urgency, fix and equip all public hospitals and medical centers and encourage. Since Beko would have wished President Buhari a speedy recovery to return to his desk to fix the crises plaguing the nation let the CDHR intensify the struggle for a new Nigeria where the right to health of every citizen will be guaranteed and realized.
Court as a veritable avenue for the advancement of the broad democratic struggle
Dissatisfied with the official verdict, the Kutis headed for the Lagos High Court. In a critical summary of the evidence led in the case the trial Judge Dosunmu J. (as he then was) had observed:
“It is beyond dispute, of course, that many soldiers, a witness gave the figure of 1,000 surrounded the entire buildings, hauling stones and broken bottles. Many of them got inside the building, set fire to it as well as the generator in the compound.”
However, the learned trial judge somersaulted when he dismissed the case invoked the colonial doctrine of “The King can do no wrong.” At this juncture the 1st and 2nd Plaintiffs, Mrs. Ransome Kuti and Fela became frustrated. But the 3rd Plaintiff, Beko was undaunted. He made sure that the matter was pursued to its logical end. Hence an appeal was lodged at the Supreme Court. Thus, in the celebrated case of Ransome-Kuti & Ors. v. The Attorney General of the Federation (1985) 2 NWLR (PT 6) 211 the Supreme Court condemned the immunity attaching to the State. According to Eso JSC:
“This is bad. It should not be right that once the actual perpetrators could not be determined, the State, whose soldiers these perpetrators are could not be made liable. But then as I said the immunity of the State persisted at the time of the incident.”
To those who felt that Fela went too far by calling himself, the President Beko asked why other musicians who called themselves Commander Obey, King Sunny Ade and Admiral Dele Abiodun were not challenged!
Although the Kutis lost the case, it provided an opportunity for the Supreme Court to expunge the doctrine of “the king can do no wrong.” From the Statute Book. According to Eso JSC:
“Happily for the country, but this does not affect the instant case, Section 6 of the 1979 Constitution which vests Judicial Powers of this country in the court has to my mind removed the anachronism … There is no equivalent of this provision in previous Constitutions. For if it had been, the importation of the expression ‘unknown soldier’ which expression is normally revered all over the world, be it East or West, and which expression has now been turned into a joke and in felicitousness as a result of an enquiry into the identity of the vandalists that day, would not have excused the State from liability”
As the President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Beko was ever ready to depose to affidavits in support of the several applications filed for securing the enforcement of the right to liberty of political detainees. In the case of Mohammed Garuba v. Attorney-General of Lagos State & Ors. the applicants otherwise called the “12 kid robbers” had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death by the Armed Robbery Tribunal headed by Moshood Olugbani J. of the Lagos High Court. All appeals to the military junta to commute the death sentences had fallen on deaf ears.
Upon confirming the information that the State was set for the boys’ execution on October 6, 1990, Dr. Beko instructed me to explore the possibility of using the judicial process to save their lives. I had barely 48 hours to go to avert the reckless murder. Given the urgency shown in Dr. Ransome Kuti’s affidavit, Eniola Longe J. directed that the granting of leave in the circumstance should operate as a stay of the execution of the Applicants. In ensuring that the Court order was served Beko personally drove the Court bailiff to the offices or residences of all the Respondents including the Controller of the Kirikiri Prisons. At the end of the day, the order was obeyed.
When the substantive application came up for hearing the learned Director of Public Prosecutions, Bayo Manuwa Esq. (as he then was) argued that Section 10(3) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree No 5 of 1984 had ousted the jurisdiction of the court from entertaining the case.
In granting the reliefs sought by the Applicants Longe J. held:
“The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, of which Nigeria is a signatory, is now made into our law by African Charter Act 1983, cited by the learned counsel for the Applicants. Even if its aspect in our Constitution is suspended or ousted by any provision of our local law, the International aspect of it cannot be unilaterally abrogated. The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights of this Country, of which the deponent of the affidavit in support of this case is a member, has put this matter beyond our local consumption. As that great jurist and legal Uncle, Justice Kayode Eso, warned us when he was launching the Nigeria International Treaties 1960 – 1990 recently, by signing international treaties, we have put ourselves in the window of the world. We cannot unilaterally breach any of the terms without incurring some frowning of our international friends.”
Shortly after that the death sentences slammed on the boys were commuted to 10 years imprisonment by the Otedola regime. About a year later they were granted pardon and set free by the Lagos State Government.
In the Commissioner of Police v. Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti & 4 Ors. (reported in The BAR and the BENCH in defense of the RULE OF LAW in Nigeria by Ayo Olanrewaju Esq. Nigerian Law Publications, 1992 P. 431) the accused persons were charged with treasonable felony by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. Chief Gani Fawehinmi(SAN) and I who were the 2nd and the 4th accused persons respectively in the case argued the application for bail on behalf of all the accused persons. Having pleaded not guilty we challenged the legitimacy of the military junta to charge us with the offence of treasonable felony. In his ruling delivered on June 29, 1992 the learned Chief Magistrate, Nwada Balami Esq. (as he then was) admitted each of the accused persons to bail in the sum of N20,000.00 and one surety in like sum. The case was eventually struck out.
However, in the case of Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti v. Attorney General of the Federation & Ors. 1 NPILR 165 Owobiyi J. of the Lagos High Court declared the detention of the Applicant under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984 illegal and awarded him N50,000.00 damages. Even though it was virtually impossible to enforce the judgment of a court against the military junta we attached the official car of Mr. A. Ayoade, the then Director of Civil Litigation, Federal Ministry of Justice. In lieu of the car the judgment debt of N50,000.00 was paid to Beko!
In the Commissioner of Police v. Beko Ransome-Kuti & 2 Ors. the 1st Accused had been arrested in his capacity as the Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy following the protests that greeted the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election won by Bashorun M.K.O Abiola. Chief Gani Fawehinmi and I were equally arrested. The three of us were flown to Abuja where we were charged with conspiracy, incitement and sedition. The Magistrate, Mrs. Aisha Ango Abdullahi refused our application for bail and ordered our remand in Kuje Prison custody. Although we were later admitted to bail by Baje J. of the Federal Capital Territory High Court we were held under Decree 2 until General Babangida was chased out of power on August 26, 1993. A few days later our release was ordered by Chief Ernest Shonekan, the Head of the Interim National Government.
Upon our release we joined our colleagues in the pro-democracy movement to intensify the campaign for the actualization of the June 12 mandate. On November 10, 1993 the Interim National Government was declared illegal and unconstitutional by Dolapo Akinsanya J. of the Lagos High Court. All efforts made by Beko and other leaders of the movement to persuade Chief Abiola to take advantage of the judgment by proclaiming himself President failed.
On November 17, 1993 General Sani Abacha seized power from the illegal Interim National Government. In his desperation to retain power the junta clamped down on the opposition. Chief Abiola was arrested and charged with treason for proclaiming himself President on the basis of the June 12 mandate. The former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, General Shehu Yar’adua were also charged with treason. The ‘trial’ was conducted in camera. But upon the conclusion of the charade one of the soldiers smuggled a note to Dr. Ransome-Kuti. He was requested to alert the world that the convicts were awaiting executions!
On behalf of the human rights community Dr. Ransome -uti addressed a press conference where he pleaded with the junta to commute the death sentences to prison terms. As the local media could not muster the courage to report the event Beko faxed the test of his press statement to the international media. Thus, the planned secret executions of the convicts was exposed. From that moment the entire world descended on the junta with requests for committal of the death sentences.As its hands were tied in the circumstances the Provisional Ruling Council commuted the death sentences to prison terms.
But the junta resolved to deal ruthlessly with the human rights community for frustrating the secret execution of the convicts. Tunji Abayomi, Abdul Oroh and Chima Ubani who had attended the press conference were arrested and detained for 18 months without trial. Dr. Ransome-Kuti was ‘tried’ by the Patrick Aziza Special Military Tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment for alerting the international media of the secret plan to execute the convicts. He and Shehu Sanni were also sentenced to life imprisonment for jointly managing an illegal organization to wit: the Campaign for Democracy. For saving the lives of General Olusegun Obasanjo and others who were illegally convicted over a phantom coup Dr. Ransome-Kuti spent over 3 years. Before his death Fela could not fathom the principle that made Beko to restrain General Abacha from killing General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Beko however regained his freedom following the sudden death of General Abacha on June 8, 1998. A few months after his release Beko discovered to his utter chagrin, that a number of the ‘convicts’ were still languishing in prison custody. Hence on November 25, 1998 he wrote a letter to General Obasanjo where he suggested “the option of having all of us returned to prison until the government is ready to release everybody involved in both the 1995 and 1977 grand coup frame-ups”
In his reply General Obasanjo rejected Beko’s option and suggested the writing of a letter of appeal to General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Both of them later met and agreed that the letter be written by General Obasanjo. On his own part, Beko addressed a press conference on February 23, 1999, wherein he demanded for the unconditional release of the remaining victims of the phantom coups. Beko was full of joy when all the coup convicts were released on March 4, 1999.
On May 29, 1999, General Obasanjo took his oath as the elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As the country’s human rights record did not record any noticeable improvement in the last 7 years, Beko had been in the forefront of the campaign for the rule of law, democracy, and social justice. In spite of his failing health, he had prepared himself for the battle against the realization of the third term agenda.